COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Magic. It’s what some fans and a former coach see when Alyssa Thomas, a freshman forward on the University of Maryland women’s basketball team, takes the court.
When Thomas rips down a rebound, dribbles the length of the court and scores an easy layup, some are reminded of another basketball player.
“She’s very similar to [former Los Angeles Lakers star] Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson,” said her high school coach, Bill Wolf. “We played her at every position in high school.”
Thomas is the leading scorer and reigning Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year, who will join her No. 4-seeded Terps team Sunday for its first game of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Pretty good for a girl who initially didn’t even want to play basketball.
“My mom signed me up for basketball because I was kind of a shy kid,” said Thomas, 18. “I actually liked soccer a lot better, but once I got older, I started leaning more toward basketball.”
By the time she was a high school upperclassman, she had become a leader on her team, Central Dauphin, in Harrisburg, Pa.
The confidence she gained in high school allowed her to step into a leadership role at Maryland, some of her teammates say.
“I think I’m more of an energy-type leader than a vocal leader,” Thomas said. “I go out and play hard.”
After missing the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2003, the Terps’ women’s basketball team added the second-best recruiting class in the country, led by the fifth-ranked recruit in the country—Thomas.
This season, her energy helped Maryland improve its record to 23-7, finishing No. 16 in the final Associated Press poll.
The NCAA selection committee placed Maryland in the Philadelphia region, to the delight of Thomas and fellow freshman Natasha Cloud, another Pennsylvania native.
“It’s really exciting to be in the Philadelphia region, where we’re home in front of our fans and family,” Cloud said.
In order to make it to Philadelphia, Maryland must first win two games in College Park.
Sunday, when Thomas and the Terrapins take on the St. Francis Red Haze at the Comcast Center in College Park, she won’t be thinking beyond that game.
To prepare, she will chew the same brand of gum she has chewed since the eighth grade.
She will put her right ankle brace on first, followed by her right shoe, then her left ankle brace, and her left shoe.
And freshman walk-on Sequoia Austin will put CVS-brand lotion on Thomas’ left leg, like she does before every home game.
And then, for 40 minutes, Thomas will try to make basketball magic happen again.
“We’re going to get a national championship one of these years,” she said. “We have the team.”
–By Maryland Newsline’s Collin Berglund